Professor Timothy Burke is a pop culture historian and eager gamer. An early player of the highly-touted Star Wars Galaxies, he wrote several pieces exploring the contours of the game in its fetal stages. I played with him, and I linked to his pieces from GGA.
Months later, the game seems to have grown up, and grown ugly. Burke has written a sort of player's postmortem, explaining why he cancelled his account, and trying to reason out what went wrong:
The major research question posed to me by Star Wars: Galaxies is no longer about virtual economies, emergent systems, or anything similar. The question is how a massively-multiplayer game that has the rights to the single most popular licensed property of the late 20th Century, the backing of a company with deep pockets, and a dream team of developers can end up being in the absolute best estimation no better than any other game of its kind, and by many accounts, including my own, among the worst.The Mystery of SWG is good reading for anyone who follows this type of game. Burke writes, "I still believe that MMOGs have enormous potential to be fun and engaging, and I believe they remain the best place to realize the more profound artistic, cultural and social possibilities of computer games as a whole." I agree, though I'm increasingly saddened that those MMOGs touted as reaching into the mainstream fail in this regard (The Sims Online, and now Star Wars). None of my borderline gamer friends picked them up, and I soon stopped playing both of them. I have fonder memories of more hard-core games like Dark Age of Camelot, where the goals and systems for reaching them are more clear. MMOG game designers have not yet understood how to make participating in a persistent world a pleasant and playful way to spend a few months. I don't think it involves hours of repetative of clicking to make gun barrels.
A sizeable number of people will probably continue playing this prematurely-released game. But not breakthrough numbers, not too many people who have never played a multiplayer online game before. The real innovation in multiplayer seems ever-more likely to emerge from unlauded corners, unburdened by big licenses, fast schedules and huge teams. Note: that doesn't mean I won't try Grand Theft Tolkien online, during opening week.